by Maggie Barbieri
Series: Murder 101 #1
Publication Date: October 31, 2006
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur
Safely away from the chaos of Manhattan, St. Thomas, a small college on the banks of the Hudson River in the Bronx, is supposed to be tranquil, bucolic, and serene. Unfortunately, English professor Alison Bergeron has found it to be anything but. Recently divorced from a fellow professor and even more recently without a car---it was stolen---she has been hoofing it to school. One Friday evening, two NYPD homicide detectives drop by her office. The good news is that they found her beat-up Volvo; the bad news is that the body of one of the students in her Shakespeare seminar was in the trunk.
Not only are Alison's chances of getting the car back bleak, but suddenly she's the primary suspect on a list that includes, among others, the murdered student's drug-dealing boyfriend, Vince, and the girl's father's business rivals (he's head of an old Italian family . . .).
Accused of a crime that she didn't commit, Alison enlists her best friend, Max's, emotional support and services as an amateur sleuth. Their fumbling efforts to clear Alison's name could land her in even hotter water with Detective Bobby Crawford, the handsome investigating officer (and former altar boy)---not to mention the nuns at St. Thomas. . . .
This was a re-read of a book I’d read years ago, the first in a series that takes place on a private, catholic college campus. Our MC is a professor of English literature and the formula is fairly basic: she’s an unwitting suspect in a campus murder, and the investigating detective is a tall slab of gorgeous. Peril and protection follow.
Same old, same old right? Yes, and no. When Barbieri wrote this 14 years ago, this formula wasn’t yet so much a formula as it was a trend, and as such, this book doesn’t feel derivative – at least not to me. This story was written before ‘cozy’ became synonymous with ‘fluffy’ and ‘vapid’. So we have likeable characters we genuinely cheer on, that are going through some rather heavy duty events involving very real violence. When the MC sees crime-scene photos, she passes out, then vomits all over the detectives shoes – twice. But instead of being played for laughs, the author makes us feel the mc’s embarrassment – and the detective’s embarrassment for her.
The plotting was good; not spectacular, but this is a first book, and it was adequate enough that I didn’t guess the culprit. The author did well with presenting an array of viable suspects, and when it came down to it, the solution made sense.
I’m glad I re-read this; I’d forgotten why I loved cozies so much; it’s nice to see that what I fell in love with is not the derivative nonsense cozies have become today. Of course, I now want to re-read the entire series.
I read this for Halloween Bingo 2020, specifically for the Dark Academia square.